3:41pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Narcos' Star Wagner Moura Talks Life After Pablo Escobar: "I'm Free"
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the second season of Narcos.]
There's a moment in the penultimate episode of Narcos season two when Wagner Moura's Pablo Escobar looks out over his city of Medellin, Colombia. Now a fugitive in the final days of an escalating manhunt, the walls are closing in but he decides to quit living on the run and to return home.
The scene was the last one that Moura filmed, as the finale of the Netflix cartel drama brought about his character's death — Escobar being gunned down on a rooftop in his hometown. After moving to Bogota and living with the notorious drug kingpin for two years of his life, Moura says the shot was a perfect way to say goodbye.
"Pablo stops the car and looks at Medellin from up above, he’s looking at the city and talking to [wife] Tata on the radio," Moura recalls to The Hollywood Reporter. "It was a beautiful thing to finish my journey."
Moura's journey actually began more than two years ago, when executive producer Jose Padilha cast the Brazilian actor to play Escobar in October 2013. Portuguese-speaking Moura began taking Spanish classes and moved to Medellin in early 2014, six months before shooting began, to fully learn the language. Away from his family, similar to the character he would soon be portraying, he immersed himself in Escobar. He then brought his wife and children to live with him in Colombia for six months while shooting season two and packed on 40 pounds for Escobar's final days.
With Escobar's death, Narcos — which was renewed shortly after its season two release on Sept. 2 — is set to continue ahead without Moura, as seasons three and four will focus on his successors in the ongoing drug trade.
Here, Moura speaks to THR about his contradictory feelings about saying goodbye to Escobar, including the pride he has for Narcos and the relief he feels over finally letting go of his villainous narco-terrorist.
Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in season two. (Netflix)
What has it been like to live with a character like Pablo Escobar?
We started shooting the first season in September 2014. Then the second season wrapped in June. In that time, I couldn’t do anything else. I dedicated myself only to Pablo and to Narcos, I didn’t do any other projects between the seasons. It was just that. I was preparing the film [about Brazilian Marxist revolutionary Carlos Marighella] that I’m going to direct in February of next year, but that was just phone calls and Skype conversations. I couldn’t work on anything else.
At what point did you find out that Escobar was a two-season story?
I always knew that the show was about the drug trade. It wasn’t a show about Pablo — and we all know that Pablo died. At the end of the first season, I realized that we had covered almost 15 years of his journey and that after the finale, Pablo had about one year ahead. It wouldn’t make any sense to have a third season with Pablo. The timeline that we had from the day he escapes La Catedral to the end was very short. So when we wrapped the first one, I kind of knew that we only had one last season ahead.
Now that you’ve seen the finished product, do you think it was the right move to have Pablo as the first two seasons and then move along to the rest of the drug trade?
Oh, yes. To me, it was something that I dedicated a lot to. I gave myself to this character in a very strong way. But the feeling that I felt when we wrapped, and that I knew I wasn’t going to go back again, I felt a lot of different things but the strongest thing was relief. It was two years of being 40 pounds bigger and dealing with that environment of violence, and living in another country. It was my only thing and my only focus. Personally, it was about time to wrap.
And for the show, it’s what Narcos was supposed to be. Having Pablo in one more season would seem like it wouldn’t be for the right reasons. It wouldn’t be fair to a show that’s very accurate and honest with what we are displaying in it, so I think it was the smartest thing.
Showrunner Eric Newman has made it clear that he wants to continue until cocaine stops.
The drug trade is something so important to talk about and Pablo Escobar is just the beginning of it. Having Narcos after Pablo and having the show strong enough to keep going, it’s very important, not only artistically because it’s a show that’s original and cool, but it’s also a very political show. As a Latin American man, we have the drug trade and it’s a very big deal here. I’m really eager to watch more about the Cali cartel and the Mexican cartels, the mafias and how the United States deals with this contradiction of being where the war on the drugs and policy of drugs comes from while, at the same time, is the biggest consumer of drugs in the world. I want to see more and understand more about that contradiction. I want the show to generate more discussions about something that resonates a lot with me, especially after doing the show.
You’ve spoken out about how drugs should be legalized. Did Narcos influence or inform your opinion about the drug trade and U.S.’ stance?
I always thought that drugs should be legalized, that’s an opinion that I had before doing Narcos. After reading and studying and getting in touch with the amount of information that I had while I was researching to play Pablo, it just reinforced the idea that I had that the war on drugs is a big flop. It’s a bad thing, especially for people who live in countries that export and produce drugs, because that's where the war is taking place. In poor neighborhoods in Mexico, in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, in Brazil. Those are the places where young people from poor neighborhoods are getting killed for this war. And I try to be very careful when I say that to add that, having said that, it’s not that I think drug abuse and drug addiction is not an important thing. I think it is: it’s a big problem. But I think it’s a problem that has to be seen as a health problem and not as a police problem.
Since season two did slow down and focus on its characters, we got to see Pablo the family man, not just the narco-terrorist. When you were tasked with humanizing him, was that intimidating or a welcome challenge?
That was the idea since the beginning. I can’t approach a character in a different way. I’m 100 percent convinced that Pablo Escobar was a human being. And he was a very interesting one. For sure, he was a very, very, very mean and awful human being in many senses, but he wasn’t an alien. He was a person. He had friends, people laughed at his jokes. And he was a very contradictory person as well. He was this guy that — aside from reasons that made him who he is, because they are very complex as well — did all these things for Medellin, for poor people in his hometown. He was a very loving father.
One of the things that I like about Narcos is that not only Pablo but with all the characters — this is not a black and white show. This is not a regular American cop show where two cool cops go to save a country form a bad guy. All the characters are very complex. You can see in the second season how complex Pena and Murphy’s DEA agent characters are, especially Pena and his moral compass. In order to get Pablo, he starts to become something like him and I like that a lot. All the characters live in this gray zone between the black and white. It’s the zone that makes all of us people and human beings.
This season leads up to Escobar's death, which, historically, comes with a few theories. How much about his death did you know before sitting down with the writers and the real Pena and Murphy [who consult on the series]?
I honestly think I read everything that was written about Pablo Escobar and the drug trade in Colombia. There are many different versions about it. Pablo’s family, his son and his brother, they believe that Pablo killed himself, which is a version that I don’t buy at all. Some people say that Pablo was killed by an American sniper that was in a window nearby. Don Berna [portrayed by Mauricio Cujar on Narcos] said that Pablo was killed by his brother, one of the Los Pepes. It’s a lot of different versions. I really believe the version that we show in Narcos. Eric is a guy who really studied a lot and Steve Murphy — the real Murphy — was there and he was a source for us. So I really believe that the version that we show is the right one.
Pena (Pedro Pascal) with Trujillo (Jorge Monterrosa) on Narcos. (Netflix)
The Colombian policeman who shoots Escobar in the finale, Trujillo (Jorge Monterrosa), is based on a real officer, though his name has been changed. Is this the show's way of silencing the other theories, and saying that it was the Colombian police who pulled the final trigger?
The DEA agents are very, very real. Going back to talking about humanizing characters, I spent a lot of time with the DEA and I know the guys. I know Pena and Murphy, I’ve been to the DEA Educational Foundation and they do a great job. I just believe that they are part of a policy [the war on drugs] that I consider wrong, but they had a big part in catching Pablo. They play a very important role and it’s all true. The Americans were involved in basically everything that happened in South America, especially after the Cuban revolution. Colombia is a country that always has had a close relationship with the U.S., but the problem was that 80 percent of the cocaine in the U.S. came from Colombia.
But I think that the real heroes of Narcos are the Colombians. Characters like President Cesar Gaviria [played by Raul Mendez] and Rodrigo Lara [played by Adan Canto], who was killed in the first season, and the people of the country that fought against a great, immense power that was the drug trade and the narco-terrorists back in the ‘80s. So the thing with the bullet in the end, there is a symbolism that ends up reinforcing what I’m saying. Though it’s a very brutal and horrible thing, having someone executed, even if this person is Pablo Escobar, it’s symbolic and reinforces the role that the Colombian police and the Colombian people had in the fight against the drug trade.
The death scene was recreated at the actual building – what was it like to recreate it, as well as the death photo? (Murphy and other Colombian police posed with Escobar's corpse on the day he died, Dec. 2, 1993.)
Yeah, with Murphy holding Pablo’s arm. That was emotional. It was one of my last days of filming. The scene in the rooftop was really, really emotional because not only me, but the crew that was living with the character for two years, we all knew that was the end of the road for Pablo. That was a very emotional scene for all of us, and then being at the same place where Pablo Escobar was killed, that brought up an amount of energy and emotion for a lot of us.
You gained 40 pounds for the role. Have you lost all of it?
Yes. I feel great. That was my goal and when I wrapped, I just wanted to not only get back to my former weight, but also to get rid of Pablo.
During those two years, I’d imagine there were times that you brought him home with you. Did losing that weight feel like the moment you finally shed him?
Yes. I feel relieved. I feel that I’m free. (Laughs.) I can’t work as an actor for the next year. I’m not going to act, I’m going to direct, because anything that I would do as an actor would have the influence of Pablo. I need some time to really get rid of the whole thing, it’s great to move on. But I look at these past two years and I look at the series with a lot of love and pride. I’m really happy and proud of what we did.
What are you going to miss most?
I’ll miss the experience. Narcos was a very strong experience, not only artistically and politically, but as a human being. I’m Brazilian so it was great to feel for the first time — Brazil is very [separated] in South America because we speak Portuguese — so being in Colombia and living in Colombia, where I brought my kids to learn Spanish, I’ll miss the feeling that I bring with me in my soul and my heart. I learned what it is to be part of something bigger than just being a Brazilian. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was a part of something. I was a Latin American person talking about something that resonated a lot with me and Colombia is the county that introduced me to this world, to the fact that we are all connected in South America, despite language and culture. Unfortunately, one of the things that puts us together is the drug trade. There are a lot of other great things that connect us, but one of them is a bad one, and it was great to be there and know more about this country. It was something that really changed my life. So I couldn’t say that I miss it because I bring it with me. It was a very, very important moment for me.
Narcos will continue after Escobar. It was picked up for two more seasons and the announcement primes the Cali cartel’s Gilberto Orejuela (Damian Alcazar) to take your place as series villain. Do you have any advice?
He doesn’t need any advice. He is a great, extraordinary actor. I had the chance to meet him a couple times in L.A., Colombia and in Mexico. He’s not only a great actor, but a very, very wise man. He comes from a country which is now what Colombia used to be back in the ‘80s. Mexico became a narco-country. Damian, as a political man and human being, can bring the discussion and talk about something that resonates with him and with his country in a very strong way with his work. So I think it’s going to be awesome.
Narcos season two is streaming now on Netflix (head here for more info) and keep up with all of THR's show coverage below.